James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Radioactive Fish and Birds: Dangers from Japan?

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 6:49 PM EDT

Over the weekend the Japanese Science Ministry released data from midweek showing large amounts of radioactive iodine had been discovered in seawater off the coast. According to NHK, "the detected level of iodine-131 was 79.4 becquerels per liter, twice the legal standard for water discharged from nuclear plants."

This information follows news that has been coming out in dribs and drabs about a supposed crack in the plant and radioactive water leaking into the ground beneath the plant. While the danger of radioactivity in Japan and elsewhere has generally been played down, these discoveries raise several potentially significant questions for Japan, the central and northern Pacific, and in the United States, primarily for Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

The first involves fish. The Pacific currents running along the  Japanese coast go north up the Asian coast before turning towards the Bering Sea, and on down through the Gulf of Alaska to the U.S. northwest coast. These currents mainly move from west to east. Fish are influenced by these currents, and in particular the great stocks of tuna along the warmer waters on, above, and below the equator and in the central Pacific.

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Supreme Court Rules Against Exonerated Death Row Prisoner Who Sued Prosecutors

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 3:33 PM EDT

Last October, Mother Jones published a long piece about the case of John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated--based on evidence that had been purposefully withheld by prosecutors in the office of New Orleans DA Harry Connick Sr.  A Louisiana jury found the DA's office culpable for Thompson's ordeal (which included coming within weeks of execution before the exculpatory evidence was revealed), and awarded him $14 million in compensatory damages.

The state appealed the jury's verdict all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which yesterday ruled against Thompson and stripped him of his award. As reported by the Washington Post:

Conservative justices prevailed in the 5 to 4 ruling, which shielded the district attorney’s office from liability for not turning over evidence that showed John Thompson’s innocence.

Justice Clarence Thomas said Thompson could not show a pattern of “deliberate indifference” on the part of former district attorney Harry Connick Sr. in training his staff to turn over evidence to the defense team.

It was the first decision of the court term that split the justices into ideological camps, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disagreement by reading a summary of her dissent from the bench.

“I would uphold the jury’s verdict awarding damages to Thompson for the gross, deliberately indifferent and long-continuing violation of his fair trial right,” she said, adding that she was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

She said the actions of prosecutors under the control of Connick, who left office in 2003 and is the father of the famous singer of the same name, “dishonored” the obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the accused established in Brady v. Maryland nearly 50 years ago.

Ginsburg also wrote that "Connick’s deliberately indifferent attitude created a tinderbox in which Brady violations were nigh inevitable.” As we wrote in October, many other convictions secured by the office have also been overturned, all due to suppression of evidence. “They all try to portray it as rogue prosecutor; a fluke,”  said New Orleans Defense Attorney Nick Trenticosta, but “Harry Connick used to give awards to prosecutors for successfully convicting people.”

Connick, Trenticosta said, created a culture where convictions were won “at any cost.” The office's zeal for sending people to death row was such that a New Orleans prosecutor kept on his desk a model electric chair holding photos of five condemned men--John Thompson among them. Trenticosta has called the prosectors’ actions “calculated measures to take people’s lives away.” 

Governor Cuomo to New York's Poor and Middle Class: Drop Dead

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 9:15 AM EDT

There is no country in the industrial world with as great an income disparity between the rich and poor as the United States. And within the US, there is no state where the disparity is more pronounced than New York. New York City was the center of the Great Recession, and today unemployment there stands at 9 percent and is not expected to drop any time soon. At the same time, the financial sector that caused it all has recovered nicely, and the executives are pulling down salaries and perks larger than they did before the recession.

In the midst of all this gross inequality, New York’s millionaires are getting a tax break, thanks to the state's new Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. Son of liberal ex-governor Mario Cuomo, inheritor of some of the enthusiasm that once surrounded Eliot Spitzer’s campaign, and successor to the weak stand-in David Paterson, Cuomo was elected on a wave of optimism. He even ran on the line of the Working Families Party, an increasingly important progressive player in state politics. Yet Andrew Cuomo has turned out to be just another craven neoliberal. In his most meaningful action to date, he has embraced a budget that would make any Bushite salivate.

In a deal this past weekend, the governor and legislative leaders agreed upon a $132.5 million budget that cuts state spending by 2 percent, largely on the backs of the poor and the sick, women, children, the elderly, and other beneficiaries of state services. It offers next to nothing to the struggling middle class. But for the well-heeled denizens of Wall Street and beyond, there's a promised end to the so-called millionaire's tax passed at the height of the recession. This privileged group has already received a massive boost from the federal government in the form of the financial industry bailout, followed by the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Now they'll receive an extra gift from the state.

Bradley Manning's Torturous Treatment Met By Growing Resistance

| Fri Mar. 18, 2011 12:02 PM EDT

The solitary confinement of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, is now approaching its tenth month. In addition to sporadic on-the-ground protests, a growing chorus of media and activist voices is calling for an end to Manning’s appalling treatment. Implicitly or explicitly, they link the accused WikiLeaker’s fate to that of tens of thousands of other US prisoners held in solitary, and shed new light on a widespread and torturous practice.

Yesterday the ACLU sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, charging that the "gratuitously harsh treatment" of Manning "violates fundamental constitutional norms." The letter states:

The Supreme Court has long held that the government violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment whenever it “unnecessarily and wantonly inflicts pain.” No legitimate purpose is served by keeping Private Manning stripped naked; in prolonged isolated confinement and utter idleness; subjected to sleep deprivation through repeated physical inspections throughout the night; deprived of any meaningful opportunity to exercise, even in his cell; and stripped of his reading glasses so that he cannot read. Absent any evident justification, such treatment is clearly forbidden by our Constitution…

President Obama recently stated that Private Manning’s conditions comply with the Pentagon’s “basic standards.” Given that those standards apparently permit Private Manning to be subjected to plainly unconstitutional conditions, it is clear that the Department of Defense must adapt its standards to meet the demands of the Constitution.

Amnesty International sent a letter to Gates in January, and amplified its protests last week. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on the US government to "publicly explain the precise reasons behind extremely restrictive and possibly punitive and degrading treatment that Army Private First Class Bradley Manning alleges he has received while detained at the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia."

NPR's On Point this morning spent a full hour on Manning, and the show includes a good rundown of the controversy over his confinement. Mainstream publications have joined progressive critics like Salon's Glenn Greenwald in decrying Manning’s treatment. Earlier this week they were joined by the conservative National Review, which declared that he "does not deserve arbitrary and pointless abuse."

Is Your Drugstore Selling Your Private Information to Big Pharma?

| Tue Mar. 15, 2011 12:50 PM EDT

For years, the big drugstore chains have stoutly denied selling prescription information—patient names, contact information, doctors' names, and prescription details—to pharmaceutical companies for marketing use. Now, that charade has come to an end with two class action  suits, accusing CVS and Walgreen of doing just that.

In a civil suit in Philadelphia County Court, as Courthouse News reports, the city’s teachers union charged that consumers got unsolicited sales pitches after CVS allegedly sold customers’ private information to Eli Lilly and Co., Merck, AstraZeneca, Bayer, and other drug manufacturers. The union’s claim states:

 "Specifically, in exchange for the receipt of funds, direct promotional letters were sent to physicians of consumers by  defendant CVS Caremark in order to promote and tout specific prescription drugs of pharmaceutical manufacturers who contracted   with defendant CVS Caremark" for use of prescription information, according to the complaint.      

"While touted as an 'RXReview Program' by defendant CVS   Caremark, in reality, the physician communications were nothing more than a profit-making opportunity," the class claims.

CVS's scheme contradicts its "public pronouncements as to the sanctity of both consumers' privacy and the physician-patient relationship," according to the complaint.

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